The eco warrior of Mangaia...

Saturday September 19, 2015 Written by Published in Weekend
Muriaiti does a safety checkon a two-person submarine before a 200-400 metre dive in the Bering Sea Canyon, between Russia and Alaska. Muriaiti does a safety checkon a two-person submarine before a 200-400 metre dive in the Bering Sea Canyon, between Russia and Alaska.

This is the story of Tereapii Muriaiti, the “eco warrior Mangaia. The story is part of a series called “50 Tamariki of Kuki Airani.” Telling the stories of ordinary Cook Islanders who have achieved extraordinary things. It was written by Florence Syme Buchanan.

“In 1997 the sea became part of my journey. “The ocean current carried me away and revealed a once rich treasure chest full of life, now an almost empty chest turned upside down, revealing her barren womb. 

“The same current carried me to distant lands far and wide. I heard many languages spoken by all colours, walked the land they cared and loved and the same land they plunged and destroyed. That same current carried me to the gates of life where five beautiful children found me. They became my five sunrises and sunsets at sea. 

“Together we’ve walked across many oceans to visit the same old tree where we played in the realm of dreams. They became the songs of the ocean calling me to come home and stay. My journey with this current is soon coming to an end. Time to heed the call. Kia Orana – may you live long.”

At six months, Tereapii Mauriaiti was adopted by Tauarea and Miimetua Mauriaiti of Mangaia. 

His biological parents are the late Tavake and Piri Williams. 

He was schooled at Ivirua Primary School then went on to Mangaia College.

He shares his story:

My fondest memories of Mangaia where I grew up is sitting  with friends on the end of the airstrip drinking coconuts, often watching humpback whales breaching, watching my older brother harvest wild honey from tree trunks or observing little cracks in the makatea.

Both mum and dad are teachers. We were fortunate to have bread and butter on the table with our tea. I grew up with four brothers and two sisters. We worked hard on the farm, planting taro,kumara, maniota and all kinds of vegetables to eat and sell. We had many pigs, chickens and goats; they were pretty much part of the family too.

If we weren’t farming we’d be on the beach fishing, gathering kai moana and sitting around the fire late into the night eating the food of the gods while staring out into the wide open night sky.

Growing up on Mangaia gave me such an intense bond to that special place. I enjoyed the freedom of exploring beyond the village boundaries and far out into makatea during my childhood. The wild fruits ripened, fell to the ground, germinated and grew. Limestone caves plunged naturally deep in the ground. Every cave we discovered meant exploring far into the unknown. 

I grew up hunting wild pigs, goats and chickens or just camping out into the bush for days. Mangaia has a powerful energy. You feel the land humming at places, especially around the stone circles built by the ancestors. I stayed away from those stones. They scared me.

Even though my parents were devout Christians and strict parents, they always supported us and never supressed us with their ideology. They taught us to respect nature, live in harmony with the land, work hard and enjoy life as a family. They were the lanterns shining in our lives. They showed us the way. My dad always pointed out towards the horizon and encouraged us to go out into the world.

As a teenager I wanted to be a singer. I loved singing and playing the guitar. I still do today. I loved the outdoors and the adventures into the wild. I’ve had my eye out for a good adventure ever since I was a small child.

My eldest sister met a Dutch Greenpeace crew member ( Matini Gotje)  and brought him to Mangaia to stay for a few weeks. He had some books and photos about Greenpeace. I borrowed a book one day and sitting  under the tipani tree,  I read about Mururoa and the French nuclear testing. I learned about the nuclear fallout on Rongelap Island in the Marshall Islands from US nuclear testing.

I saw pictures of the evacuations of the entire island. The Rainbow warrior relocated everyone to a safer atoll.

I saw pictures of the crew, all of whom I would come to know and work with later on. I began to take interest in Greenpeace and read all the books Matini had. I was inspired big time. I did not know then that the very Rainbow Warrior I was reading about would call into Rarotonga eight months down the line. The adventure was about to begin. But I didn’t know it at that time.

The Rainbow Warrior called into Avarua on the November 15, 1997. 

I was in Rarotonga at the time on a climate change campaign. Matini had mentioned to the ship’s Captain Joel Stuart that I was keen to volunteer and help out on the public open boat days and logistics.

The day I walked onto the gangway, I was nervous and very excited. I met the crew and was given a tour and briefing about the ships schedule while the ship remained in port. There were 12 different nationalities on board. On the same day I was assigned to my post down below into the cinema to show a five minute Greenpeace documentary about its global campaigns.

I found myself standing in front of our Cook Island people and talking about the documentary and climate change issues in Maori. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

On the day the ship was due to depart Captain Stuart asked me if I wanted to stay on board and become one of the volunteer crew. I was to replace a volunteer crew member who had to disembark suddenly. I had already said “yes” twice before he finished the question.

So there I was, 2 o’clock in the afternoon on November 21, 1997, standing on deck with my luggage. The Rainbow Warrior cast off around 6 pm. I stood on the stern of that ship looking back at Rarotonga until she slowly sunk below the horizon. I felt sad, excited and alone. So many feelings and emotions put together. I shed some good tears. Happy tears.

My first mission with Greenpeace was on a climate change tour through Tahiti then to Darwin, North of Australia. We sailed around the east coast doing research with climate change scientists. We documented reef ecosystems, took samples of sediments, collecting tiny plastic particles in the sea, collected plankton through filtered nets for analysis. 

We had an ornithologist onboard sketching and studying sea birds from a distance. It was madness because at the same time I’m going through the biggest culture shock of my life. 

It was the most challenging chapter of my career. I was pulled into another world full of frustrations, excitement, challenges, opinions. 

A very busy world indeed.

Next week CI News will feature part two of Tereapii Mauriaiti’s story when he becomes a Greenpeace activist and journeys to many places protecting the environment.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Nora Lazaro Monday, 19 October 2015 13:11 posted by Nora Lazaro

    A very proud Mangaian right now and I salute you with great honour and respect...You are so prepared for this so go forth and change the world!!!!

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